Saturday 12 March 2016

Peru's Big Green Day and a Cycle Through North Yorkshire

Saturday 12th March     light S         hazy sunshine 11C
Ted Parker
My day starts watching a youtube video about the biggest Green day list ever; Scott Robinson and Ted Parker's amazing walking and canoeing day in the Manu, Peru. They saw 331 birds that day, still the Big Green Big day record. It's a fascinating watch. Scott's talk about going for the Big Green Day record along the Manu Road, Amazonia and Cock of the Rock lodges, the latter with a house flock of 80 species, floods my mind with memories and I laugh out loud at the thought of doing a BIGBY, Big Green Big Year along it. Maybe a dream; Lima with San Isidro Park, the Miraflores beach and Los Pantanos de Villa reserve starts the year. Then the cycle along the coast to the Paracas. I wonder if a yacht would take me out to the islands? Up and over the Andes via Cusco, Ollantaytambo and the sacred river; canoe! To Huarcarpay and the lake there and then the long Manu Road itself down to Chontachaka and Salvacion and beyond to areas that I haven't been to . . yet. Dream on. The thoughts of my daughter, Rebecca, come to mind as I go through the route in my head; “killed by bandits!”

On my facebook page I see the sad news that Keith Emerson has died and so immerse myself in his music for the next hour whilst uploading some photographs to my blog.

It is going to be a tough day. I need to cycle as far as I can along the North Yorkshire coast towards Teeside. At least the weather is with me. The sun is shining and it is warm enough to cycle without a coat. Also a light wind is behind me at first.
Through Scarborough and the hills begin. Up the road goes to moorland heights and a couple of stonechat are on the heather.
Yesterday's ring ouzel is on my mind; the earliest ever seen in Yorkshire. I am confused over it. I can see it passing me in my mind's eye and I wonder how it had got there. Was it on Flamborough before coming over the bay? Or did it just come over the whole of the North Sea to get here? Do ring ouzels usually migrate at night therefore how come it came in during the afternoon? Lots of questions.

Just to keep the strange avian theme going, I see a lapwing flying around in display. The unusual thing is that it has a totally white hand; it's primaries are white. Just on one wing but so distinctive.
Further on a large male pheasant is sitting stunned in the middle of the road. I pick it up and put it into a field. It may get a bit more life before the bird murderers get to work.

This main road is a veritable graveyard for so many species. The usual load of pheasants and hares also has a yellowhammer, a barn owl, a moorhen and a few blackbirds and a couple of wood pigeons. Mammals dead by the road include fox, badger and rabbit.
This depressing total of car-nage is relieved when a couple of short-eared owls I see over the moorland with just nine miles to get to Guisborough. 

A red grouse is there too, another bird that takes the Green year list to 186.
A few miles later two females and a male red grouse are very close to the road.

So the year list is 186, which is still twenty four ahead of this time last year.

45.65 Miles 3027 feet elevation up 2718 feet elevation down

Friday 11 March 2016

Incredible. Migration Surprises Me. Filey Brigg.

Friday 11th March light SE to fresh sunny 7C

After all of the effort of the last few days since leaving Norfolk I decide a rest day is deserved. I head for the Brigg in lovely sunshine and with only a light wind from the south east, things are a tad warmer.

Carrying the bike down the muddy cliff path, I reach the limestone pavement at the Brigg's base and after chaining it to a bench I start to walk to the far end. There are two ecologists from Hull University on their way out to laminaria beds as the tide is incredibly low.
The area is fascinating with many seaweed species, some shore crabs and periwinkles. I hadn't realised how far the Brigg extends out into the sea. It reminds me of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and it's limestone structures seem to me to be as interesting as that more famous place.

There's a group of purple sandpipers and turnstones that allow me to sit close by and watch. One turnstone has four colour rings on; two on each leg.

Birds are passing, mostly heading south; gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, red-throated divers and fulmars. The surf scoter is as faithful as ever to his blue plastic bottle and there are a number of shags and cormorants feeding close by.

The two young seal pups are still on the rock ledge close to the muddy cliffs. They seem to be extremely relaxed and don;t react too harshly even when a border collie goes over to them to investigate. People come and go all morning, taking photographs of the sleeping pair.

Returning to the bike I sit and seawatch as more people come to see the seal pups. I am talking to one couple when a bird flies past from off the sea. I jump up and chase after it. It's a ring ouzel! Unfortunately it just keeps flying and is soon off over the cliff top. I text Phil about what I feel is an almost unbelievable sighting. To see a ring ouzel at this time of year and coming off the sea is incredible and I am buzzing, telling anyone who will listen for ages.
A couple I met yesterday. Lise and Dave, arrive with their two dogs. Lise is a keen birdwatcher eager to learn more. Dave is a photographer who likes to photograph birds yet confesses to knowing nothing about them. Together we watch and chat. Maybe it is because the hour is getting late but there are now a few puffins flying past as well as the masses of guillemot.
The wind has got up during the day and the temperature has correspondingly fallen. It is downright chilly!
I decide to go and search for birds in the sheltered trees and hedges along the cliff tops. On the way back up the cliff path two birders replete with scopes on tripods come down to look for the surf scoter. I wave goodbye to Lise and Dave and stand with the two birders and get great views of the scoter through one's telescope. Hence I meet Tim Isherwood and Adrian Johnson. Tim tells me he started birding as a kid when Mum and dad put up a red bag full of peanuts. The birds attracted to it were diverse and colourful enough to start tim's life of loving birds. Adrian's story s amazing.
Many years ago Adrian before he was a birder saw a bird in his garden that he didn't recognise. Local organisations dismissed his report as a redwing. It wasn't. It was a spring male eye-browed thrush! How can one top that as a garden tick?

So the year list is 185, which is still twenty four ahead of this time last year.

3.69 Miles 245 feet elevation up 245 feet elevation down

The Pain was Worth It!

Thursday 10th March light NW Misty, cloudy with some brighter periods . . . and cold

Past the harbour hoping for an Iceland gull but not getting one, I follow the cycle path and then the road to Flamborough. To North Landing I search the fields along the cliff edge for the reported Richard's pipits. There are only two other birders doing the same, a couple who have just started birding, Steve and Judith from Wakefield. With three large fields scanned after a couple of hours, with some time spent enjoying the massed ranks of kittiwakes and guillemots on the cliffs, and enjoying watching gannets, auks and fulmars flying past, I head back to the bike for lunch. 

One thought on the way back to the bike; how did that tyre get on top of that stack?

Steve and Julie had left an hour or so ago and as I reach the first field, the field nearest to the cafes and car park, a crow lands in it. I use my binoculars and experience another 'oh there it is' moment. Richard's pipit goes onto the year list.
I text Phil, The Oracle, the good news and he asks how many. Looking back I can see there are two of them. Brilliant, a possibly tricky to get scarcity is seen.
Now there has been a bittern seen close by each evening for a while and Phil suggests seawatching and then the bittern. I have other ideas. There is a surf scoter twelve miles away at Filey. I set off to find it.
An hour and a half later, and after meeting two lovely couples who are out either walking the dog, Lise and Dave or birding, Julie and Trevor who used to live on Fetlar. I cycle along the cliff top and easily find the first winter male surf scoter. 120 miles in the last three days is well worth it. Two very good birds are added to the year list. Result!
I chain the bike to a fence and clamber down the muddy cliff to get to the shore. I am interested in the rocks that I have seen from the top and want a closer look. Does anybody want to hazzard a guess at what the coral-like structures are in the limestone?
The surf scoter is a little closer and seems to like the company of a greta-crested grebe. I sit down on some rocks and am surprised when I hear a loud cough. Now twenty feet away are two small seal cubs! They're staring at me but aren't too concerned. They yawn and roll and stretch. To be so close to two such wonderful animals is, here comes that favourite word of mine, a privilege.

So the year list is 183, which is still twenty two ahead of this time last year. Almost coincidentally the 182nd bird I saw last year was surf scoter at Hoylake on the 14th of April.

23.95 Miles 1099 feet elevation up 1012 feet elevation down

Rain, Wind and Salty Spray!

Wednesday 9th March light to fresh NE heavy rain all day and cold

There is another couple in the breakfast room this morning, Leslie and Mark. They tell me that they send shoe boxes full of things to send out to our troops and, as well as giving me a donation for my charities, pass me their card. Here's a link to their website. A brilliant couple.
Rachel has done me a packed lunch to help me on my way. Thanks Rachel, much appreciated.

It is raining heavily and there is a fresh wind in my face as I go over the immense Humber Bridge. Sprays from passing vehicles contains salt that I can taste on my lips.

It is going to be fun!
Thirty five miles later I reach Bridlington. I find a hotel. I go to bed.

So the year list is 181, which is still twenty one ahead of this time last year.

38.51 Miles 924 feet elevation up 1016 feet elevation down

Boston TO Barton. Sixty Miles Through Lincolnshire.

Tuesday 8th March light SW sunny intervals and cold

A day of cycling as far as I can north. Two special birds are available; Richard's pipits at North Landing, Flamborough and a first winter surf scoter at Filey.

At last there is a light wind and almost behind me too. The first road is very straight and very flat.
Through Horncastle and Wragby; north to Market Rasen and I stop to buy a large Danish pastry from an independent bakers. Nearly all of the products are in plastic cases sealed in a plastic wrapper. The Danish pastries aren't and the young shop assistant is confused when I was for the bought item to just be given to me. I don't want a paper bag. I am going to devour it straight away. “I can't do that,” she says.

To Caistor and the mostly gentle falls and rises becomes a chalk hill to climb. The route along the ridge gives views for miles to the west and a steep bendy downhill stretch takes me into the village of BIGBY.

For those who don't know the term BIGBY let me explain. A few years ago there was a film with Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson called The Big Year. Based on the real adventures of three Americans, Sandy Komito, Ken Kaufman and Al Levantin, the film told how each wanted to be the birder who had the biggest 'carbon' birding list in the USA in a particular year. The book of the same name is fabulous. The film I like being more an exploration of relationships. Anyway a 'carbon' year list chase is called A Big Year.
BIGBY is for the birder who wants to avoid carbon as much as possible. A pure BIGBY is when a birder doesn't use any fossil fuel transport at all in a whole year. My personal BIGBY has the use of a few ferries to get me to Shetland and Fair Isle. This is allowed as long as I am honest and say that when placing my list on record. I wonder if one will ever have to say how Green one is in other ways as well?

Bigby, I like it! Oh sorry, it stands for Big Green Big Year.
Through more country lanes and onto a dual carriageway towards the Humber Bridge; I turn off at the past roundabout before it and go into Barton-upon-Humber. Here I find a guest house which is superb and the owners, Rachel and Simon are very friendly. I have cycled over sixty miles today and gosh, don't I feel it. My knees feel swollen and my hands feel stiff, being stuck in a grasping attitude. C'est la rue!

So the year list is 181, which is still twenty one ahead of this time last year.

61.94 Miles 1963 feet elevation up 1873 feet elevation down

Thursday 10 March 2016

Kings Lynn to Boston

Monday 7th March fresh NE sunny intervals and cold

A day of cycling as far as I can towards Boston, Lincolnshire starts with a walk through Kings Lynn centre; well after three large fresh fruit-covered pancakes for breakfast. The Grange hotel, Kings Lynn isn't one of my favourite hotels for no reason. Jane, the bubbly Australian manageress, who in herself is a good reason to revisit, has brought not only three pancakes covered in raspberries, blueberries and banana but she has also put an extra four in foil for me to enjoy later. There's also the bottle of Canadian maple syrup with which to enjoy them with.
So with a little something sorted out as a gift to my daughter Rebecca, who is going to San Fransisco to give a presentation in a couple of weeks as part of her PhD, I set off along the country lanes along the south end of The Wash.
Today I do something I have never donr before whilst cycling. I have earphones in and the hours are passed by listening to and singing along to my favourite music.

Heacham passed, a large cafe has two armoured vehicles, a large RAF aircraft and a number of large missile shooting guns. A recruitement trailer for the army is parked here and there are 'Help The Heroes' flags flying.
I need a pee, one does occassionally when one is drinking two to three litres a session. The only private place is a broken down ruin of an old cottage and the deed is done inside, There's no roof so with the forecast for heavy rain tomorrow it will soon be washed away. Another few litres of fresh water saved as I won't be committing the sin of flushing urine with the precious liquid.
I reach Frampton after half an hour of The Who. The Bell Boy arrives at this fabulous RSPB reserve all newly born, my Biking Birder uniform and bike tells a volunteer and a staff member who I am. Simon, the RSPB staff member greets me like an old friend. Last year he helped me see a rare American white-rumped sandpiper here back last June. The volunteer, who's name I can't recall sorry, shakes hand as Simon tells me that he will tell Chris I am here.
Into the visitor's centre I buy myself a hot chocolate and a packet of chocolate raisins. I wonder how much profit the RSPB get from the small packet of the latter. I am sure they, and I would get a better deal if they bought much larger packets of chocolate raisins from Lidl and sold them at £1!
Simon comes on with Chris. I had totally forgotten that the brother of The Oracle, Phil Andrews worked here and the surprise has me laughing out loud.
Recently Phil has not only sent around 15 to 20 texts a day over birds ahead of me that I need to get but he has also started to add possible ten day itineraries to the comprehensive list of birds seen in the last week in the counties around me! Phil has two wonderful small boys and a beautiful wife. Where does he get the time? No matter, he is a vital cog in the professional team that is The Biking Birder.
Tree sparrows come to the feeder where there are already goldfinch, chaffinch, greenfinch, yellowhammers, robin, blackbird and dunnock. The list grows by one.
As by now it is late afternoon I head for the 360 hide where a little ringed plover was seen earlier in the day. A barn owl flies over. How many of them have I seen in the last week? There are flocks of roosting dunlin and a sleeping ringed plover stays as that. No sign of the LRP, I leave the reserve and get to Boston. New bird for the year and target place reached despite the cold, and it has been very cold, and the strong wind in my face. Music kept me going!

So the year list is now at 181, which is still twenty four ahead of this time last year.

41.23 Miles 439 feet elevation up 454 feet elevation down

A Day off then off to Kings Lynn.

Sunday 6th March fresh N Cloudy and cold

Time to head off for Lincolnshire. I feel a little light-headed after such a late night drinking brandy and red wine, very rare for me to do so, with a great group of Spaniards. Why is it that Spanish people have these times when friends, couple and families get together on a holiday somewhere? In Peru it was the same, wonderful to be taken in as a new friend and share the laughter and comraderie. Another similarity was the way the ladies retired whilst the men carried on until the early hours.

Another barn owl, the route today is inland to cut the north west corner and I reach Wolferton for another attempt for the golden pheasant. Yes I know that the best chance of seeing it is at 7:00am but at the moment I feel too tired to camp there. I will camp later in the year if I don't get it today.
I don't!

Instead I see a couple of green woodpeckers and explore Dersingham Heath hoping for woodlarks. They haven't returned yet so that's another reason to be here again in May.

So the year list is still at 180, which is twenty four ahead of this time last year.

29.58 Miles 1318 feet elevation up 1308 feet elevation down

Rough-legged Buzzard after a lot of effort!

Friday 4th March fresh N Very sunny and cold

The target today is the rough-legged buzzard at Choseley barns near Twitchwell. The bird was seen last night and it is obviously an important bird to get for the year list. If I do succeed today then it may save me many miles of cycling later in the year.
It is cold today and the wind is fresh though from the side. There is almost no traffic as I cycle west, which is a blessing.

Lots of partridge, red-legged and grey, are in the fields as I proceed and two barn owls are daylight hunting again. So many barn owls in the last few days; eleven so far, I wonder why they seem to be doing so well in Norfolk compared to other counties?
I search the Choseley area for a couple of hours but only see partridge and yellowhammers. I even count the hares, over a hundred in order to keep searching.

Lunch at Titchwell and a walk down to the sea to look for eider. None there but plenty of common scoter and a few goldeneye. The bar-tailed godwits are here in good numbers and close too. Good to compare them to the black-tailed seen on the way up the path.

Out on the freshwater marsh the water level is extremely low so that a predator proof fence can be built around the large islands to improve wader breeding productivity.

Back to Choseley.
Three hours of pushing the bike along roads and bridleways. There has been a couple of common buzzards and yet another barn owl. This one was sitting on a garden fence. What a garden bird to have!
The sun is setting and I watch as a small group of greylags flies over.
What's that beneath them?
It's a 'there it is!' moment.
Rough-legged buzzard on the list.

So the year list is 180, twenty five ahead of this time last year.

31.16 Miles 970 feet elevation up 970 feet elevation down

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Last week maybe but still interesting I hope

Thursday 3rd March light W Very sunny until late PM

Staying in the excellent Wells Youth Hostel means that the ride to Blakeney Marsh for a target bird, lapland bunting, is easy in the early morning sunshine with a light breeze behind me.

There's a lot of duck on a poll at Blakeney Quay; blue-winged teal, garganey, ross' goose, hooded merganser, puna teal and a male ferruginous drake but as they are within a fence I may not count them!

The laplands couldn't be easier as a group of ten or so birders are watching as one by one the birds come up onto the fence and although views are brief and not that good due to the birds being in line with the strong sun. 

Two barn owls are hunting in the area and I see another as I cycle towards Cley along the redone sea wall.

After the iconic views of Cley's famous windmill and after passing the famous house that was the site for Nancy's cafe, still sorely missed after all these years, I go to the large Cley Marsh visitor's centre for a drink and cake. I am invited to sit down by two strangers as all of the tables are taken.

Out onto the reserve, I cycle along the East Bank, also with it's path redone, and push the bike along the shingle searching for the reported snow buntings. Not finding them, I chain the bike to the fence and proceed down to Salthouse. It is amazing to see how far the shingle was taken inland during the terrific storms of two years ago. In some places the shingle is two hundred yards away from its original position. I am interested in why areas of shingle have been moved so much where as in other places it hasn't. Also interesting are the brick walls and posts revealed which I presume are from WW2 defences.
Back to the bike I can see three people who have binoculars trained down on a shingle depression near to it. The snow buntings are next to my bike!

A couple of bird photographers ensure that the birds don't stay too long and the flock flies off down the beach.
They return though and I sit down rest against a fence post and watch fascinated as they feed by flicking over small pebbles in search of seeds. Occasionally individuals squabble but a wonderful privilege to be able to sit quietly and watch them close by.

So the year list is 179, twenty four ahead of this time last year.

23.63 Miles 699 feet elevation up 699 feet elevation down

Monday 7 March 2016

Hail, New Year Ticks and a RSPB Legend

Wednesday 2nd March light NW Heavy hail showers

Heavy hail showers occasionally hit me as I cycle back to the North Norfolk coast. My shower cap over my cycling helmet protects my scalped scalp from the hail.
Another try for the lone golden pheasant male at Wolferton is as successful as when myself and the Coppice 'Birding Clams' group used to try every time we went birding to Norfolk in the 80s and 90s, that is not successful at all. I just hope it doesn't become a piece of Norfolk roadkill before I can get back here in May.

To Titchwell RSPB reserve to ask fr new RSPB logo laminates to put on the bike. I like people to know why I am doing this, to raise the profile, to advertise and hopefully raise some money (hint!) for the RSPB. To my great surprise I am offered not only a coffee but cake and a chicken roll as well! Thanks Richard and Frances, Sue and Pam.
Sue is a World big lister, that is she travels the world seeing as many birds as possible. Sue is off to Estonia and Lithuania next week. Here's a link to her blog for more information. 

The red-crested pochards are said to be out of the reedbed and on view on Patsy's Pool so I make my way there. Nine of them are on the pool, another for the list. A RSPB volunteer, Paul Fisher, is sitting there and we talk about birds and I realise that I am in the presence of an absolute legend. Paul is a lovely man who has a proud history with the RSPB, helping to create so many reserves around South Essex, as the regional project manager.
Interested in my quest, Paul asks me what else I need for the year list and as I say “hen harrier” blow me if one appears in front of us. The moment went like this:
What else do you need?”
Hen harrier, like that one there!”
Brilliant. This photograph of the ringtail doesn't do it justice but it soon goes behind some trees and is gone.

Maybe I should have said pallid harrier.
We talk for over an hour in the cold before deciding that the conversation could be carried on more comfortably in the cafe.

Both of us are old men, both of us long time birders but we stop when there is a robin at our feet quietly singing away to itself.
We chat until we are thrown out! A wonderful, inspirational man.

So the year list is still at 177, twenty two ahead of this time last year.

44.68 Miles 1247 feet elevation up 1243 feet elevation down

BB 2010 Oops, crash and a motorway Abominable Snowman in Hemel Hempstead January 5th

5 th January                                                            Tragedy                                              The Bee Gees   ...